Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Perspective

Fiona, the happy hippoe_SClBFiona is a world-famous, 10-month-old hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo. Over the last year, Fiona’s life has been documented moment by moment on social media from the day she was born on Jan. 24, even starring in her own seven-episode reality show sponsored by Facebook. She is a 500-pound (and growing) starlet who was not supposed to survive. Born six weeks early, she weighed only 29 pounds. Most viable hippos weigh 55 to 120 pounds at birth; premature infants rarely pull through. Every day, until May 15 when Fiona finally was able to promenade around the hippo tank for the public, seemed to bring a new health crisis. All of this was documented on social media for the world to see.

Overnight, Fiona became a symbol of resilience and positivity. BuzzFeed ran listicles of her bravest moments, calling her a "sassy, unbothered, unproblematic queen." NPR ran a national report on her swelling celebrity status. One website called her "The Only Good Thing Left in This World." The fervor around Fiona makes sense, given the polarized, tense, mass anxiety swirling around the country this year. When times get rough, we tend to project our hopes and fears onto animals. But it can be dangerous to overhype and anthropomorphize wild animals, as we project our fantasies and desires onto them and turn the narrative into a heartwarming tale that serves to reaffirm our own sense of goodness. The animal becomes a meme, a product, a unit of sale.

As late critic John Berger wrote of celebrity creatures living in zoos: "This reduction of the animal, which has a theoretical as well as economic history, is part of the same process as that by which men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units." And yet, many of Fiona’s keepers insist that she courts and adores the attention.

Rachel Syme, New York Timese_SClBOur bond with dogs … etched in stonee_SClBArchaeologists exploring rock engravings in the Saudi desert have found what they say may be the earliest depictions of human-canine companionship. The ancient carvings date back about 8,000 to 9,000 years and depict hunters using dogs to overwhelm prey such as gazelles and ibex before they fired killing blows with bows and arrows.

"You can almost hear the dogs barking and the humans yelling," said Melinda Zeder, a curator of Old World archaeology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the study. "You can almost smell the fear in the animals."

With their pricked ears, angled chests and curly tails, each dog in the rock art resembles the modern breed of Canaan dogs. In one scene there are two lines connecting the necks of two dogs to the hips of the humans.

"This is the first imagery of a dog with a leash," said Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, in Germany, and an author of the study that appeared in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. He said that because of where the lines were on the dog and human’s anatomy, they most likely represented actual leashes and were not mere symbolic lines.

The team also found that the dog images were carved beneath images of cattle, which they said indicated that the dog images came earlier.

Nicholas St. Fleur, New York Timese_SClBVoter ID’s unintended elder effecte_SClBOlder people vote. In last year’s presidential election, Census Bureau data show, about 64 percent of all adults had registered to vote and 56 percent reported voting. But among those ages 65 to 74 years old, more than three-quarters had registered and 70 percent voted. Even among people ages 85 and older, more than 60 percent cast ballots. Still, we don’t make it easy for them. Physical barriers at polling places, a longtime obstacle for the elderly and disabled citizens of any age, can prevent older voters’ participation. Voting machines may not accommodate people who use wheelchairs or are visually impaired.

The Government Accountability Office recently reported the results of a survey of 178 polling places used in 2016. Accessibility had improved since 2000, the GAO concluded, but the great majority still had impediments outside — like steep ramps or inadequate parking — or inside that could discourage or exclude disabled voters. More recently, a wave of onerous state voting requirements has added to the problem, with an outsized effect on older voters, argues a new report by Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

Officials in states adopting the requirements usually cite fears of widespread fraud, a concern debunked by researchers and election officials themselves. Nevertheless, older people who’d voted religiously all their adult lives are suddenly encountering barriers that effectively disenfranchise them.

"Needing a photo ID, getting a photo ID, getting access to polling places — there are lots of obstacles for older people," said Casey, the ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

As voting requirements tighten, "the target may have been younger voters, poor voters, minorities," said Richard Hasen, a specialist in election law at the University of California, Irvine. "But one of the casualties has been older voters."

Paula Span, New York Times

Butt dialing begets, yup, butt drawinge_SClBA few months ago, my dad texted me a strange scribble, which I thought looked a bit like a knife sharing the canvas with a dot. A co-worker disagreed: She thought it resembled "the index finger of God … pointing down at a peon as if to punish them." We were both wrong, of course: It was a butt drawing. Not a drawing of a butt, but a drawing by a butt.

It took me a while to identify my dad’s rear, rather than his conscious self, as the artist behind the scribble, because in-message drawings are a relatively new addition to the iPhone’s stable of tricks. Digital Touch, the feature that allows users to create drawings and share them in iMessage, became available to iPhone users last year with the release of iOS 10. There was some grumbling upon its initial release about how easy it was to inadvertently send drawings, among other problems, which led Apple to remove the feature from the iMessage app in iOS 11. But this patch has yet to benefit people in their 60s like my father (hi, Dad!), who will probably buy new phones before they actively choose to update their operating systems.

Back when all phones did was make calls, our fears of accidental communication were limited to the butt dial, the call your phone might mistakenly make when its buttons were somehow triggered while the device was sitting in your back pants pocket, thus subjecting the poor schmo on the other end to the ambient sounds of you obliviously going about your day. Now that the proliferation of smartphone features has expanded our avenues for communicating with each other almost exponentially, the number of digital gaffes we can blame on our backsides — or even just the fumbling of our fingers — has also ballooned: the butt dial, the butt drawing, the butt text, just some of the many ways to unintentionally and awkwardly butt in on someone else’s day.

Heather Schwedel, Slate

Who’s eating the jellyfish? Penguinse_SClBBecause jellyfish are 95 percent water and so low in calories, it has been thought that most predators would not benefit from eating them. But a recent study has identified a new, unexpected jelly-eater: penguins.

Like other warm-blooded animals, penguins have high caloric demands and typically seek energy-dense foods, like fish and krill. In a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, however, an international consortium of scientists strapped miniature video cameras to the penguins, the scientists documented nearly 200 strikes on jellies at seven sites. The team saw penguins eating only carnivorous jellies, not herbivorous ones, like salps. It’s possible that the penguins are gaining nutrients from the food eaten by carnivorous jellies, which include crustaceans that are too small for the penguins to target themselves.

Steph Yin, New York Timese_SClB

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